The Crucial Importance of Me

Center for Diversity & the Environment's Theory of Change with individual change at the center.

Center for Diversity & the Environment's Theory of Change with individual change at the center.

And when I say “me,” I mean you! I am talking about you J.E.D.I.s, and the courageous and vulnerable personal work each of you do to effectively create the broader change in your organizations and the environmental movement. You are at the heart of this J.E.D.I. transformation and you are crucially important. The environmental movement and a healthy Earth depend on what you do today, what you do tomorrow, how you embody J.E.D.I. values, how you respond to challenges and mistakes, how you grow and become more effective year to year, and how you do all of this work in service to the whole.

The key to change is centering your work and growth on the personal level. At the beginning of your J.E.D.I. journey, personal work should be close to 100% of your focus—to build awareness, knowledge, skills, agency, and overall competency. In later stages, as you advance J.E.D.I. externally in your teams, organizations, and spheres of influence, your personal work must continue to maintain and strengthen your J.E.D.I. muscles. I love the Center for Diversity & the Environment’s theory of change (in the image to the right), which depicts the personal work as core to the change process. You cannot effectively change your organization without personal change. Your organizational J.E.D.I. prowess will only be as effective as the J.E.D.I. competency and agency of the individuals that make up the organization. If all staff and board are fours (on a scale of one to ten) in J.E.D.I. competency, then the highest the organization can be on J.E.D.I. is a four. If you want the organization to be a ten, then each person that makes up the organization must be a ten, which means the organization must invest in transformational J.E.D.I. development of each person.

Since you are core to the overall J.E.D.I. transformation of the environmental movement, you have the potential to be both the problem and the solution to the J.E.D.I. crisis. Let me explain.

So why might you be the problem? The biggest impediment to the J.E.D.I. challenge is you and me—the people who make up the environmental movement. We are our biggest challenge. It’s been right in the mirror the whole time. Many have missed it because we are looking beyond the mirror, searching for an elusive oasis in the distance that will solve all of our J.E.D.I. problems. Yes, we are working within a system and within institutions that continue to reinforce damaging, unjust and undeserved outcomes for people of color. Institutional and systemic racism are the root causes of the J.E.D.I. challenge. However, who reinforces and participates in these institutions and systems? You, me, and each and every one of us. We often participate without thinking or being intentional. This is the power of institutional and systemic racism—the illusion that doing nothing is good because of the widespread lie that racism only happens when malignant intent is present. Mistreatment of people of color are embedded in the systems and approaches in which we participate on a daily basis. Therefore, you and I become the problem when we do nothing because we are allowing racism to continue. You and I become the problem even when we take very little action because we are still not doing enough to stem the constant flow of racism. You and I become the problem when we take J.E.D.I. actions (albeit with good intentions) without properly and sufficiently building our knowledge, skills, and overall competency to be effective at J.E.D.I. On the other hand, you and I become the answer to this problem when we focus on growing and using our J.E.D.I. knowledge, skills, and agency to intentionally dismantle these systems and co-create something new and more powerful.

Since we are the biggest impediment, we are also the solution. Isn’t that empowering? It has been for me. When I get frustrated and start complaining about the movement being racist, about individuals and leaders reinforcing systemic racism while people of color continue to have crushing experiences, I point fingers at people and blame institutional and systemic racism. Does this change anything? No! I wish it did. I can’t point to institutional and system racism and say, “change!” Nothing happens. It simply keeps me in an unhealthy place of self-pity and makes me sadder, angrier, and more frustrated. It’s a place that dwells in division to appease my ego. When I remain in my ego, I push you to your ego, and we regress—or at best go nowhere—standing in a place of defending, dividing, advocating, and not listening.

However, when I stop searching in the distance for the illusory solution and turn my pointed finger 180 degrees, I know what can change—me. The beautiful thing about J.E.D.I. is that there is always something to learn because the work is so complex. I always find areas to cultivate, whether it’s growing my heart, my mind, or both together. This work has been the most challenging and also the most fulfilling of my career. This is life work for me and should be for you.

Undeniably, J.E.D.I. work has made me a better person. When I stand with love, empathy and compassion with all of my brothers and sisters, I am then the solution. I see and feel the true part of myself—the one that can change, that can feel, and that stands in hope. This is the true part of me that sees the true part of you. Sometimes these parts are buried within. To unearth it in another I must first unearth it in myself.

I am the solution because the only thing in my life that I can really control is myself. What I can control, I can change, and the most effective way to influence, inspire, and invite others to the beauty and benefits of J.E.D.I work is by modeling the way.

In a Harvard commencement speech, Muhammed Ali, shared a poem. “Me, We.” So short and yet so brilliant. I believe Ali ordered these two words in this way for a reason. The poem tells me that once I realize the crucial importance of me, I can then effectively step into and fully understand the we—my role, my gifts, where and how I best fit into the whole, and when to step up and when to step back. My role is not to change everything. (Whew! What a relief.) My role is to do the work I was made to do really, really well (to be one of the best at it) and trust that you do the work that you were made to do really, really well. Just like nature we each play a key interconnected part in creating a healthy ecosystem. When the me becomes the we, we enter into harmonious community. It is in this space where synergistic transformation may occur on a more powerful and broader level than any of us can achieve on our own. In the end, is that not really what we hope for?

When in your personal work have you felt you were the solution?

When in your personal work have you felt you were the problem?